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Build Your Own Lesson (BYOL)BYOL: A fun and educational project for you and your class to explore together

Nerine Tamara Fritz
Jo-Anne Henrieke van der Sluijs
Sarah Eline Dekker
Leon Jung


For our redesign, we tried to tackle the problem of emotional disconnection in the class. This entails students that do not have a bond with the other students in their class, which is in fact a problem in every class. This absence of peer relations has a negative effect on the educational performance of the children, who will not be able to do all they are capable of, as well as on their health. Therefore we were convinced this problem needed solution.

We had an interview with some teachers and students of Academie Tien, to see for ourselves what the impact of emotional disconnection actually is. Then we tried to combine multiple aspects of the problem in our redesign, such as not knowing each other and therefore not having any friendships within the group.

The final product is a booklet for teachers about our redesign Build Your Own Lesson. This project consists of students preparing a lesson about a topic, which they chose themselves, in randomly assigned groups, so more connections will be made between the students. These emotional connections will then hopefully help the students to be the best versions of themselves, both personally and in their education.


For the analysis of the problem literature research was done, a survey was conducted and several students were interviewed at Academie Tien.

Literature Analysis

Adolescents are often concerned about being socially excluded by peers. Moreover, they frequently experience a fear of being rejected from the group. According to research, one of the consequences of their stage of brain development is that teenagers are extra sensitive to the emotions of others and group norms. As a result, their peer group plays an important role in their social wellbeing and behaviour. Furthermore, by adulthood the intergroup biases are strongly formed, which means that in-group members are favoured over out-group members, so childhood and adolescence are the right moments to intervene (Rutland et al., 2015).

Furthermore, less stable peer-relations are directly associated with stress, because of greater risks of conflict and insecurity on relationship-management (Spray et al., 2018). So it is important for teenagers to experience stable peer-relations.

Moreover, to achieve their highest potential and increase knowledge driven functions, students should experience emotions (Streb et al., 2015). This means that the Classroom Emotional Climate (CEC) should be positive. The CEC depends on the quality of the social and emotional interactions in the classroom between and among students and teachers. Indications for classrooms with a high CEC are a sense of community, where the teachers anticipate on the students’ needs and the cherishing of positive relations between and among students and teachers. Evidence shows that the Classroom Emotional Climate plays an important role in academic performance (Reyes et al., 2012).

Results from survey

For the analysis of the problem a survey about emotions and social relationships in class was created. The 16 questions were filled out by 19 students. 42.1% of the respondents was female. The majority of the students felt at ease in class. However, not all students did, and this is an indication for the true existence of our targeted problem. Also, 57.9% of the respondents thought that their peers had an influence on the extent to which one can be themselves in class. The same percentage of students thought their teacher had an influence also. One of the students mentioned that listening to each other could help improve the ambiance in class.

Visit to Academie Tien

During our visit to Academie Tien, several students were interviewed and some of them said that recently a conflict had happened in class. As a consequence, some students did not feel safe. They discussed this with the class and their teacher told them that she was bullied in her past. The class was really shocked and found it hard to deal with. Some students cried and after school they discussed the subject with friends. One student said that it was really helpful to talk to each other about such serious matters. The teacher also asked what the class was planning to do to get everyone involved and to prevent social exclusion. The students felt that it was good that they talked about it for a long time; social exclusion seemed to be a real problem in their class.

Other students explained that they felt like they were the ‘underdogs’ of the class. They experienced this feeling especially during physical education when teams had to be formed and when they were not chosen to be in a team. Thus, during the formation of groups in class the problem of social exclusion was experienced the most. Groups are often formed based on gender and some students thought this was not an optimal way to form groups.

So the analysis raises the following questions: What is the optimal way to form groups? And how can we try to prevent social exclusion in class? Moreover, how can the possible solution of this problem be implemented in an educational redesign? This is what our redesign called Build Your Own Lesson (BYOL) will be about.


Click on the following link for access to the Build Your Own Lesson Redesign


Three different perspectives will be highlighted that support this educational redesign, Build Your Own Lesson (BYOL):


First of all, we would like to draw attention to the perspective of neuroscience, which was presented to us by Esther van Duin and Jorim Tielbeek. Neuroscientific research points out the importance and consequences of emotional disconnection.

The main issue neuroscience suggests is stress. According to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, stress is in  an increase in hormone levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Originally, these hormones helped people survive in dangerous situations. Nowadays this survival stress is no longer necessary.

However, stress still arises when we feel endangered. Human beings seek company, that is part of their nature (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Historically, the chances of survival were higher when in a group. If such connections are absent, in the case of emotional disconnection, this will cause stress. Stress affects several parts in the brain negatively: First, the hippocampus, which is where memory is situated. Second, the amygdala is triggered, involving emotion. Lastly, the prefrontal cortex is affected, which is responsible for focus (Krugers et al., 2010). While still being in young adulthood, the latter organ is not fully developed yet (Luciana, 2003). So it is hard sometimes to keep one’s focus. Stress does not make this any easier.

As we can see, the brain is affected in several ways by stress. The brain is essential for learning and now, when the stress remains for a longer period of time, learning becomes harder. This is especially the case with emotional disconnection, as it is a long-term problem. The difficulty of learning leads to underachievement, which means that students will  be unable to do everything they are actually capable of doing. When there is an emotional stability and a connection between students, this has a positive effect on their education: it will lead to optimal achievement to capability.

Furthermore, stress in young adulthood can trigger various mental problems. This is something we want to prevent. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people suffer from a mental disorder during their lifetime. A decrease in emotional stress can change this. So in order to get the best out of the student’s education, the mind and the brain need to be in good health, which will be stimulated by a social network and connection.

However, neuroscientific research has also found that school is only of  small influence on the cognitive abilities of students. Socio-economic status, for example, is of much greater influence (Walker et al., 2005). We must acknowledge this, but at the same time, we should do what we can do within the educational frame.


A second perspective in which we want to present the redesign BYOL, is the perspective of Bildung, introduced by Koen Wessels. The founder of the Bildung movement, Wilhelm von Humboldt, made some major reforms in the (higher) education system in 1809. First, he integrated research and teaching into one place: the university. Second, he introduced academic freedom, meaning that universities received the right to choose their own academic plan, courses and content they wanted to teach (Leezenberg, 2018).

Alongside this, Bildung included more than just factual knowledge: education was supposed focus on the development of the individual as well as the “capacity to judge and to act” (Leezenberg, 2018, p. 364). Nowadays the Bildung Academie believes, according to Bildung teacher Koen Wessels, in opening up the educational environment for students, so they can engage in their own learning process. The narrative that education is a preparation for the ‘real’ world is not true, because children are, no matter how we look at it, already part of that world, as Arendt (1954) pointed out.

This is what we acknowledge with BYOL as well. First of all, by giving the students different roles in a preparational process, they will learn to take responsibility for the tasks they are assigned. Secondly, how to work together in a team to complete a project (lesson-plan) while all having a slightly different task. This is a next step in personal development, because students may uncover skills which they did not know they had. Furthermore, by highlighting very diverse topics during the lessons, which show the interests of the students, the class will receive a bit of knowledge or skill they otherwise would not have acquired in the regular curriculum. In that sense the topics form an addition to what is learned in school. This extra knowledge also contributes to the development of the children. It fits Bildung, as Bildung wants to be an attempt to create space for engagement with modern topics. So BYOL will not only support the mental and social health created by connection, it will also stimulate children to be an active member in the learning community that is education.

Student Engagement

The last perspective we will introduce to you is the perspective of student engagement. According to Appleton et al. (2008), many teachers see that  students do not feel involved in class, and teachers know the importance of this engagement as well. Disconnection may be an outcome of this disengagement, which is why the perspective of engagement is important to our targeted problem.

The article of Appleton et al. (2008) distinguished three types of engagement: academic, behavioural and psychological engagement. Academic engagement involves homework completion and grades. Behavioural engagement focuses on participation in the classroom and extra activities. Psychological engagement includes the feeling of belonging and the relationships between peers amongst each other and with their teachers, which fits the problems we want to solve best. However, behavioural engagement is involved in the redesign as well, as a side effect of the main goal.

Goodenow (1991) found that the sense of belonging was extra important for students in grade 7, a “transitional grade level”. The absence of this feeling had the largest negative impact for these students. Based on his findings, Appleton et al. (2008) see there indeed may be an influence of the emotional connection on the achievement in school.

Another aspect introduced by Appleton et al. is motivation, which they state as related to the psychological engagement, for example in the form of autonomy. Autonomy is achieved in BYOL: the students are in charge of their lesson, including its organisation and content.

So BYOL will make room for behavioural engagement, in the sense that the students need to take on active roles in preparing and performing their own lessons. At the same time it stimulates psychological engagement, because it will give the students the opportunity to work together and get to know each other, which will create a connection.


Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., & Furlong, M. J. (2008). Student engagement with school: Critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 369-386.

Arendt, H. (1954). The crisis in education. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, New York: The Viking Press Inc.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.

Goodenow, C. (1991). The Sense of Belonging and Its Relationship to Academic Motivation among Pre-and Early Adolescent Students.

Krugers, H. J., Lucassen, P. J., Karst, H. & Joëls, M. (2010). Chronic stress effects on hippocampal structure and synaptic function: relevance for depression and normalization by anti-glucocorticoid treatment. Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience, 2(24), 24.

Leezenberg, M. (2018). History and Philosophy of the Humanities. An Introduction. Amsterdam University Press.

Luciana, M. (2003). The neural and functional development of human prefrontal cortex. The cognitive neuroscience of development, 157-179.

Walker*, S. O., Petrill, S. A., & Plomin, R. (2005). A genetically sensitive investigation of the effects of the school environment and socio‐economic status on academic achievement in seven‐year‐olds. Educational Psychology, 25(1), 55-73.